It existed in the shadow of the boom-and-bust economy of Tulsas
oil-rich gentility, whose development outpaced its sister down the
turnpike for much of the last half-century.
It existed in the shadow of equidistant college rivals whose fan bases divided the citys allegiance.
Most of all, it existed in the shadow of the rubble of what had been the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
Oklahoma Citys identity, in some ways, has never been fully its own. And for much of the last two decades, it was shaped by the hell unleashed with a bomb in a Ryder truck.
But that changed with Hurricane Katrina, another states tragedy, which allowed Oklahomans to do what they do best: rally. That changed with the New Orleans Hornets, whose two-year residence proved that OKC had both the enthusiasm and acumen to support an NBA franchise.
And finally, that changed for good in 2008 with the arrival of the newly minted Oklahoma City Thunder and the aw, shucks marketability of Kevin Durant and company.
Now, four years later, the citys moment in the sun has come with the NBA Finals, the significance of which cant be summed up in television ratings, attendance, Charles Barkley horse rides or coins in local coffers although all have been substantial.
The real impact is a little more nuanced.
Showcasing the city
you Google Oklahoma City, the auto-finish is going to say Thunder
instead of bombing, said Royce Young, proprietor of the Daily Thunder
blog. And to me, that means something.
is hardly alone. This team these 15 young men, and of course, the
staff and coaches in a lot of peoples minds, they kind of personify
Oklahoma City, said Roy Williams, president of the Greater Oklahoma
organization embodies the city, then the players on-the-court
enthusiasm goes hand-in-hand with the blue-and-orange bonanza occurring
in all quarters of town.
OKC Inc. has been leading the charge in Thundering Up downtown,
including hanging lights in the Myriad Botanical Gardens and painting
the sidewalk along Robinson Avenue. The nonprofit agency has also been
busy sprucing up the city for the national and international spotlight,
power-washing sidewalks and cleaning streets.
a good way to show the world how far weve come and how much weve
overcome, said Gentry McKeown, communications coordinator for Downtown
Project 180 fixing up the downtown area, Devon tower, all the
improvements weve made I think it really shows the world that we are a
league as we may be, were still small fry in terms of media share. San
Antonios last three championships drew dismal TV ratings, which raised
questions about the bankability of little guys (figuratively, that is).
that a small market can still get the lions share of national
interest, however, Game 1 of the Thunder-Miami Heat series drew an 11.8
Nielsen rating, the highest ever for a Finals opener on ABC. Last years
match-up between the Heat and the Dallas Mavericks elicited a 10.7. Game
2 also earned an equally impressive 11.8 rating.
22 international media outlets present for that first game broadcast
the Thunder win in 47 different languages to more than 200 countries and
How do you measure that? You really cant, Williams said. You dont realize what comes out of that kind of exposure.
is slightly easier to quantify the tangible boons of Finals exposure.
For the championship brawl, out-of-towners didnt just come in for
one-night stays in hotels; they stayed for three or four days. Their
economic impact nearly triples, and thats not counting the price they
paid for tickets, Williams said.
And then theres that other thing called media exposure, he said.
narratives are good for a lot of things. Parsing complex or
contradictory ideas is not one of them. This is why reconciling the
Thunders sweetheart image with the prevailing caricature of Thunder CEO
Clay Bennett and fellow owners as robber barons who stole the
SuperSonics from Seattle has been a topic of heated conversation this
Among the critics is Dave Zirin, sports editor of The Nation, who took to the web to encourage sports fans nationwide to if not root for the Heat root against the Thunder.
A slippery slope, he argues. It is about saying that a certain method
of ownership that includes lying to the media and political officials when you buy a team becomes validated, Zirin told Oklahoma Gazette. It becomes acceptable. And the bar for the kind of responsibility and morality that we expect from sports owners, it devolves.
Thunder win would embolden owners like Zygi Wilf, of the Minnesota
Vikings, and every single place where owners are threatening to leave
unless they get money, he said.
For Oklahoma City, the challenge has been balancing both sympathy for Seattle fans and elation at having a team to call its own.
always said I hate the way Oklahoma City got a team. I wish it could
have been an expansion team, said Young. Franchises just move and
people get hurt, and its really horrible. But Im never going to
apologize for it because its not my fault theyre here. Nobody in
Oklahoma City, its not their fault.
understands that sentiment. If you live in Oklahoma City, and youre
not rooting for the Thunder right now, then I dont know what youre smoking, he said, noting the squads excessive likeability.
team has even won over well, kinda sportswriter Bill Simmons, who
previously accused Bennett of hijacking the Sonics, and has
obnoxiously spent four years calling the relocated team the Zombie
Writing in grantland.com last week, Simmons wrestled with his conflicted feelings.
the possible exception of Portland, no NBA team means more to its city
[than the OKC Thunder]. This goes beyond having the loudest fans.
Theres genuine devotion here, he wrote.
The simple explanation: Oklahoma
City has really good fans. The complicated explanation: They care a
little bit more because the team matters more to them. Before Durant
showed up, Oklahoma City was The City That Had The Bombing. Outsiders
knew Oklahoma for football, the Nebraska rivalry and 1995s terrorist
attack, and maybe not even in that order.
Oklahoma Citys devotion to the Thunder appears to be more than
reciprocated. From charity events and fundraisers, to just nights out on
the town, the organization and its members have ingrained themselves in
Its done more than ingratiate civic pride, Williams said; its shown the world the citys caliber.
They have a visibility that is not part of their contract. They give us a reason to like them, Williams said.
Thunder] has a following that is totally across the community. Its
black, white. Its rich, poor. Its blue collar, white collar. And
theyre all sitting together, rooting for the same thing.
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